Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Slasher #1: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Sunday Slasher: A weekly celebration of the best and the worst of the Slasher genre.

George Mihalka's 1981 Canadian slasher MY BLOODY VALENTINE is mostly remembered these days for supplying one of the most important bands of the past thirty years with their name, but to many kids who came of age in the early to mid eighties it is famous for being one of the most cut up and infamous horror films of their youth.
Hungarian born Mihalka was a complete unknown and had had very little film experience when he shot MY BLOODY VALENTINE in late 1980. He had previously only directed one feature, 1980's PICK-UP SUMMER and MY BLOODY VALENTINE simultaneously shows his inexperience and youthful energy.
The film, written by HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME collaborator John Beaird, follows the adventures of a group of small town Canadian kids who are attempting to have the towns first Valentine day dance since a crazed coal miner named Harry had went on a killing rampage years before. When human hearts start showing up in Valentine's day boxes, the towns overwhelmingly inept sheriff starts to think that perhaps a dance isn't the best idea, and that maybe Harry is back in business.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE fails on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin, and yet in the last twenty minutes or so it does become genuinely suspenseful and for all its flaws, slightly enduring.
The positive aspects of MY BLOODY VALENTINE are pretty easy to point out. The Canadian location of Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia is very memorable and gives the film a much different feel from many of the slasher films of the period. Mihalka's direction isn't exactly inspired but he handles the film's killings well and like I said he does manage to build a sense of dread and excitement in the films final scenes. Rodney Gibbon's photography is also fairly good, specifically in the films darker moments where he uses a pretty simple but still effective lighting scheme that manages to be creepy but not overly done.
The film suffers from several beloved hallmarks of the genre, namely major lapses of logic, poor characterizations, bad acting, poor decision making and a trick ending you can guess less than halfway though. Looking past these obvious faults is pretty easy though in these films and it is still fun to watch, laugh at, or perhaps more importantly laugh with, and be scared by MY BLOODY VALENTINE...friends, beer and a late night are all recommended for maximum viewing pleasure though...

Of course none of the above matters as MY BLOODY VALENTINE is still one of the most cut slasher films in existence, and of course this is what has made it so legendary. Literally every killing scene was cut heavily by the ratings board, neutering what should have been the films most visceral and memorable moments into a bloodless series of confusing and at times incomprehensible shots. Perhaps only FRIDAY THE 13TH PART TWO was more damaged by the censor's scissors, but MY BLOODY VALENTINE is at least running a close second as the board literally ripped the heart out of the film.
The footage is said to still exist but unfortunately the film is the property of Paramount, a comany notorious for hating these movies and doing as little for them as possible. So it seems that the killer's unadulterated carnage can only be seen right now by those lucky enough to have grey market copies. As I was watching this recently with my girlfriend I mentioned that watching MY BLOODY VALENTINE like this was a bit like watching a sex film without the sex or a musical with no songs...it is really unfortunate that this film remains unrestored.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE opened in early 1981 to typically savage reviews and just okay box office. Thanks to magazines like Fangoria though, the cutting of the film became known almost immediately and because of this it became one of the most talked about slasher films of the eighties.
The influential Scottish band MY BLOODY VALENTINE, led by the Brian Wilson of his age Kevin Shields, took their name from the film in the mid eighties even though they had never seen it. Shields and collaborator Belinda Butcher were said to be simultaneously annoyed and amused when they finally saw the film on one of their early American tours, when they found it less than the masterpiece that they had hoped for.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE is currently available on a bare bones DVD from Paramount that features an okay Widescreen print but nothing else. All of the gore is still missing, so MY BLOODY VALENTINE is still one of the most skinless and bloodless slasher film of the period.
The film, despite its flaws is pretty beloved by fans of the genre who still yearn to see the missing footage. There is something almost quaint about the film now and it is hard for me to not be a bit nostalgic about it even though it is about as far away from being a good film as possible...one hopes that eventually a good uncut copy of the film will appear someday and that fans can finally put old Harry to rest.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Full Circle (The Haunting Of Julia) 1977


Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) is one of the most perfectly realized and executed genre films I have ever seen. From its striking and tragic opening scene to its jaw dropping final moment, FULL CIRCLE never once slips in its relatively brief 98 minute running time. It is a real masterpiece of style and class, and one of the great lost films of the seventies.
At the heart of FULL CIRCLE is a relatively simple and tragic story centering on a child's death and a mother's breakdown. Shelia Benson pointed out in her great original review that the film can be read as a study of a young woman slowly but surely losing her mind, or it can be taken as a superior ghost story. Either way, the film remains a very haunting exercise in loss, revenge and fear.
It is this sense of loss that occupies every frame of FULL CIRCLE that separates it from most films that fall into the thriller or horror genre. Mia Farrow's work as the lonely and isolated Julia is frankly astounding and Loncraine's long takes of her alone in her house or out walking are incredibly intimate. It is due to Loncraine's sensitive direction of Farrow that makes the film so incredibly resonate, and it works not only as a ghost story but as one of the great character studies in all of seventies genre cinema.
The film is remarkably singular on many levels. It is, on the one hand, a rather old fashioned and slow moving work that builds carefully and methodically. On the the other hand it is very much a film that only the late seventies could have produced, made by a group of young relatively inexperienced people who were obviously filled with invention and creativity.
While the film marks career bests for Loncraine, Farrow and composer Colin Towns, that shouldn't overshadow that much of its power is due to the cinematography by Peter Hannan, the editing of Ron Wiseman and the striking production design of Brian Morris.
Hannan had worked with Loncraine on his first film, 1975's FLAME and his work on FULL CIRCLE is really noteworthy. Even on the washed out VHS copy, you can see how beautifully photographed this film is. Hannan's striking, dreamlike work would serve him well on future projects with Loncraine as well as the legendary Nicolas Roeg. Editor Ron Wiseman, whose cutting gives FULL CIRCLE's more intense scenes a real sense of dread and power, had previously worked on the strange 1973 Canadian production THE PYX and his work here is really splendid. The seance sequence is handled extremely well in particular and much of its greatness stems from Wiseman's editorial skills.

Perhaps the most striking behind the scenes effort was given by production designer Brian Morris. Julia's house is especially memorable with its high ceilings, spiralling staircases and Gothic feel. Just look at the details Morris contributes to the work the next time you watch it, specifically how children's toys seem to be everywhere in the film. Morris would use this striking eye in later work with Loncraine and on memorably designed productions ranging from PINK FLOYD THE WALL to ANGEL HEART.
I have already written on Colin Towns incredible score and I will only reiterate that this is one of the great marriages between image and music and the soundtrack album is in bad need of reissuing, with the missing cues added on as a bonus.

Joining the magical Farrow is a very distinguished cast featuring some of the best British actors of the period. These include a young Tom Conti, a creepy Keir Dullea and a great Jill Bennett.
Young Samantha Gates, in her film debut, plays the ghostly Olivia incredibly well and it is unfortunate that she only appeared in a handful of films afterwards. Popular British actress Sophie Ward makes one of her first on screen appearances as Julia's daughter Kate, who tragically chokes to death in the films opening.
FULL CIRCLE seemed to be cursed distribution wise from the get go and it remains relatively little seen, despite being a favorite to many horror fans. Used copies of the full frame VHS version can be found on online, and I suspect that I am not the only one slightly in love with the flawed, fading print that is used on it with its soundtrack that sounds like a very scratchy record. I have often wondered what my experience would be seeing a proper widescreen dvd of it...a French DVD is available and while it does finally featuring widescreen print of the film it is unfortunately so dark that it is an eyesore to watch. FULL CIRCLE remains, much like the ghost Olivia, very much lost in time right now.

This wraps up my look at one of my favorite films...I hope that those reading the posts have enjoyed them and will take them all together as my review of the film, and not just the above rather short ended posting. It is a really splendid work that has haunted my dreams for more than two decades now. With LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and LEMORA now on DVD, FULL CIRCLE remains to me the great lost English language genre films from the seventies...seek it out and submit to its power.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sheila Benson on Full Circle

Despite its power and obvious merits, FULL CIRCLE got very little critical attention when it was finally released in the United States in 1981 under the title THE HAUNTING OF JULIA.

One critic who did recognize it as a major work was Shelia Benson from the Los Angeles Times. Below are a few choice quotes from Benson's orginal July '81 review of the film:

"THE HAUNTING OF JULIA is the possibly the best use ever made of Mia Farrow's translucent, sel-absorbed delicacy, that waiflike exterior that sheathes, one suspects, steel-clad determination...it is a film of such elegance, authority and perfection of style that it's a surprise to learn that it was only British director Richard Loncraine's second dramatic feature...Farrow dominates the film...she amplifies these personal overtones in a beuatifully realized performance...the screenplay cleares up and simplifies Straub's rather underbrushy original novel...This is the 'other world' as it should be, and so rarely is...You have to be in tune with Loncraine's intent, his deliberatly unrushed pace and dark and dangerous corners. He has fashioned a work of enormous style, with character and intelligence...the film is breathtakingly beautiful..."

Benson wasn't the only one who admired the film. Here are two other short sections of original reactions...

"The film brings on the effects of the unseen with extreme power...Farrow's extraordinary...a genuinelly creepy experience..."
-Archer Winsten, New York Post-

"In a period where suspence films have become increasingly trashy and exploitative, it is nice to see one as classy as this..."
-Howard Kissel, Women's Wear Daily

Images Of Peter Straub's Julia


FULL CIRCLE started out life as a creep and pretty splendid early Peter Straub novel rom the mid seventies. The book was a major success upon its release, which makes the indifference surrounding the release of Loncraine's major film all the more mysterious.
While there are obviously major differences between the book and film, they actually compliment each other nicely and I highly recommend Straub's work to those reading.
Here are a few various images that have appeared on varous reprintings of the book throughout the past thirty years.

Peter Straub has a fantastic website that is located at this address:

http://www.peterstraub.net/home.html

Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Colin Towns: Full Circle and Olivia)


This stunning 45 contains two of the most sublime moments in seventies experimental pop and should be seeked out by any fans of not only FULL CIRCLE, but British music in general.
The main selling point to this very rare 45 is that side A contains an otherwise unreleased edit of the unforgettable main theme from the film. While this edit is only a shadow of the original, it is still exceptionally powerful and is a worthwhile addition to Town's catalogue.
The b-side is the haunting OLIVIA, which is the same version as the album's take. This occasionally pops up on Ebay but, like the full album, is becoming harder and harder to find. A special edition release of the soundtrack would do well to feature this fine edit as one of the bonus tracks.

The Great Ones Volume Two (Side A Track Four) Mia Farrow


Sometime in the past couple of decades, the fact that Mia Farrow is one of our finest actors got lost. It happens to a lot of our greatest actors, what we think we know of their personal lives start to cloud the way we view their performances. It is a shame really because when one steps back and looks at the forty year plus career of Farrow, you see a body of work that is simply astonishing in its range, intelligence and power. This is a tribute to Mia Farrow the actress.
Mia made her acting debut at the age of fourteen in her father's 1959 production JOHN PAUL JONES. It was just a bit part though and few took note of it at the time. That would change five years later when Farrow would appear in the hugely popular television show PEYTON PLACE. While this didn't make Farrow a star, her lovely face and natural style immediately put her in the mind of anyone who saw her on the show.
A handful of roles on television and in film would follow for Mia, but no one could have predicted that a 1968 film by a relatively unknown Polish director would instantaneously catapult her into the spotlight as one of the most talked about and admired actresses of the sixties.
What can you say about Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY? There are very few performances in the horror genre that even come close to the magnificent turn she gives as Rosemary Woodhouse. Polanski found in Farrow the perfect actress for his most popular film even though she wasn't the first choice. Farrow, like Faye Dunaway and a handful of others, owes much of her career to Tuesday Weld as ROSEMARY'S BABY was one of many high profile roles the combative actress turned down in this period. As much as I idolize Weld, Mia Farrow was made for Rosemary Woodhouse and her soft gamine looks, cropped hair and inventive acting style made her an instant icon and a world renowned star seemingly overnight.
The years following ROSEMARY'S BABY were prolific ones for Farrow even though none of her immediate follow up roles matched her work for Polanski. In this period she would manage to give several memorable performances in Joseph Losey's SECRET CEREMONY (1968), stealing the film from Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Yates JOHN AND MARY (1969), opposite Dustin Hoffman, and Richard Fleischer's 1971 thriller SEE NO EVIL.
While none of these films really captured the public attention, Farrow seemed to remain untouchable and her position as one of the country's biggest stars maintained itself. More roles would follow before Farrow would land one of her best parts in Claude Chabrol's memorable DOCTEUR POPAUL (1972). The film, released as HIGH HEELS in the States, is one of Chabrol's most underrated and Farrow is just great in it. The film, outside of giving her a chance to work with one of France's greatest directors, would also allow her to share scenes with both Jean-Paul Belmondo and the exquisite Laura Antonelli (at the height of her beauty and power here).
Mia would score big time next with the much talked about Fitzgerald adaptation THE GREAT GATSBY (1974). While the merits of Jack Clayton's film have been questioned there is no doubt that the coupling of Mia Farrow and Robert Redford wasn't a inspired one. The two are simply astonishing to look at in this film and Farrow brings a real humanity to Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan. The film turned out to be Farrow's biggest hit since the Polanski picture and it re-established her as a major box office draw.
Mia would drop mostly out of view in the couple of years following THE GREAT GATSBY but she would return in 1977 with a performance of unnerving power and intensity, a performance that rivaled her turn in ROSEMARY'S BABY as her finest.
FULL CIRCLE (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) is unthinkable without Farrow. As the title character, who in the first scene watches her only child choke to death, Mia gives a complicated and fearless performance that is among my all time favorites. Looking just like she did as Rosemary Woodhouse ten years earlier, Farrow's Julia is an ambiguous and haunting creation that even after probably a dozen viewings never fails to move me or make me question what I am seeing. It is one of the great performances of the seventies and, along with ROSEMARY'S BABY and the later HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, is Farrow's finest moment.

FULL CIRCLE seemed to disappear before it even properly arrived and Farrow's moving performance was seen by a very select few. Her follow up films included Robert Altman's interesting THE WEDDING (1979) and the big budget disaster flicks AVALANCHE (1978) and HURRICANE (1979). After these roles Mia dropped out again for a few years and would resurface surprisingly in 1982 as the muse and lead actress to one of America's finest writers and directors.
So much bad blood and gossip has been passed around about Mia Farrow and Woody Allen that it has clouded the fact that for more than a decade these two delivered some of the finest work of either of their careers. Farrow worked almost exclusively for Allen between the years 1982-1992 and in that ten year stretch she delivered quality performance after performance that would cement her status as one of America's most diverse and finest actresses.

With the Woody Allen films, Farrow's icy Julia and Rosemary persona's disappeared and in their place came a warm and funny woman who exuded intelligence and style. The best of her work with Allen, 1985's THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and the monumental features HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989), are Woody Allen and Mia Farrow at their finest. How the Academy ignored Mia in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is particularly beyond me, as it is harder to think of a more heartfelt and enduring performance from American cinema in the mid eighties.
The searing HUSBANDS AND WIVES in 1992 would mark the end of Mia Farrow's incredible professional collaboration with Woody Allen and she has only worked sporadically since. While she hasn't done anything in the past decade to equal her finest work, that is more of the fault of the films and not Mia Farrow. She remains one of the most talented and beautiful people on the planet and is still capable of turning in some of the freshest and most inventive work imaginable. Just look at the recent OMEN remake, a film that was notable for two things; its pointlessness and Farrow's scene stealing and powerful turn as Mrs. Baylock.

Mia Farrow is currently working on one of her most exciting projects in years, the upcoming film from ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND director Michel Gondry, BE KIND REWIND. The film is due out this January and one hopes that Gondry has given Farrow a role worthy of her considerable talents.
Two essential stops for Mia Farrow fans are located at:

http://www.miafarrow.org/

and

http://mia-farrow.com/

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 16) Full Circle By Colin Towns


There is a line from the film PLAYING BY HEART that goes something like, "Talking about music is a bit like dancing about architecture" and that is a bit how I feel when it comes to writing on something like Colin Towns remarkable score for Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE. This elusive album needs to be experienced and nothing I write can come close to capturing the astonishing music contained on it.
Outside of being one of the finest soundtrack albums ever released, Towns' work also stands as some of the most memorable electronic music of the seventies. I hold the best moments on FULL CIRCLE up with some of the work people like Eno, Popol Vuh, Mike Oldfield and Goblin were doing in this period, the album is that good.
Towns was born just a few years after World War Two in Britain and began taking piano lessons at a very young age. Throughout his late teens and twenties he would do a variety of session work before landing a spot in the Ian Gillian band. It was while working in Gillian's band that Towns began to work in his spare time on the themes that eventually wound up in FULL CIRCLE.
I am not sure how Loncraine and crew came across the relatively unknown Towns but a demo tape of Towns score ended up in the producers hands and once they heard the magnificent main title they knew they had found their composer, and Towns was commissioned for the full score.

Towns work on the film is simply astonishing and it is a prime example of how important music can be in a horror film. Saying that FULL CIRCLE wouldn't be as effective without Towns score is a massive understatement. The film is unimaginable without it in the same way that Carpenter's HALLOWEEN or Argento's SUSPIRIA would be without their respective scores.
The main thing that sells Town's score for me is the sense of loss in it. Towns perfectly encapsulates Mia Farrow's tragic Julia in this music, you can almost imagine that this is the music that is playing in her head throughout the film. No where is this more evident than in the stunning pieces that bookend the film, FULL CIRCLE: THE PARK and FULL CIRCLE: EVERYTHING'S RIGHT NOW. Julia's very sad but remarkable journey is perfectly captured in these two long and unforgettable tracks.

The album, which is one of the most exceptional releases of a year that included Bowie's LOW among many other career defining releases, starts off with THE PARK and it takes its grip immediately. THE PARK is probably Towns most famous creation and it has popped up on many ambient and electronic collections over the years. A ten minute plus tour de force of sound effects, inventive synthesizer work, distant voices and one of the most beautiful piano themes I have ever heard, THE PARK is the album's masterpiece and it is one of those rare pieces of music that I can play over and over again.
After the majesty of the opening track, Towns delivers the intense HAVE YOU GOT A MAGNIFICENT PROBLEM, one of the more frightening tracks on the album. A persistent and heavy piano solo signals this track as perhaps the darkest and most traditional track on the record and it leads directly into PRETTY MEN ARE VERY RECEPTIVE, a synth orchestrated piece that is my least favorite on the album; although it is still quite brilliant.
KATE, on the other hand, is a real favorite and contains some of the loveliest moments on the album. Highlighted by a sweet keyboard solo that merges some of THE PARK'S themes into it, KATE is a real highlight on the record. Even better is the one sung song on the album, the jaw dropping OLIVIA. Towns sings in an emotional and pleading style that matches the nostalgic and yearning tone of the song perfectly. The song, a meditation on the ghostly Olivia from the film, features one of the great moments in Towns career when just past the three minute mark, his vocals stop and one of his most inventive and moving synth solos suddenly appears and the song switches gears from a pop single into a dissonant mix of ghostly voices and echoes of a lost time.
OLIVIA is a bit hard to recover from but LOVE SCENE, with its striking flute solo, is a nice moment on the album and is one of the lightest. MAGNUS: THE UNWELCOME INTRUSION on the other hand is one of the most terrifying, a droning landscape that suddenly explodes into a chorus of bells that reminds one immediately of a similar effect Pink Floyd had used on DARK SIDE OF THE MOON a few years earlier.
Town's score concludes with FULL CIRCLE: EVERYTHING'S RIGHT NOW, a comapnion to THE PARK and nearly its sequel. The seven minute plus EVERYTHINGS RIGHT NOW starts out with a lovely nostalgic piano solo that sneakily drifts into a quiet version of the main theme before exploding into a slightly speeded up version of THE PARK. Anyone who has seen this film will remember this piece of music as it goes along with the film's final shot, one of the most iconic and unforgettable in all of horror.

Colin Towns' FULL CIRCLE is a major work and its current out of print status is unacceptable. Briefly available on cd in the mid nineties, copies of the album and disc fetch huge prices on Ebay and are very hard to track down. The album is in bad need of a re-release and re-appraisal, as much of the score still remains unreleased. Indeed one of the films key moments, the rainy drive home, and best pieces of music is nowhere to be found on the original lp or cd. For those who can't locate this towering and magical work, I would suggest doing a blog search as downloads often pop up. It is unfortunately the only way to hear this breathtaking and rather groundbreaking record right now.
A google search will also bring up TOwns official website as well as a comprehensive fan site. The man is one of the great unknown voices and composers in popular music, and FULL CIRCLE is his masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Artist and Muse #30


Roman Polanski directs Mia Farrow in the masterful and massively influential ROSEMARY'S BABY (1969). I have a sense of dread that Polanski's untouchable film will be the victim of a remake within the next few years. I hope I am wrong but with the recent HALLOWEEN re-working that is out, it seems like nothing is sacred.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Full Circle: The Director, Richard Loncraine


Although he has had a relatively non-prolific career has a film director since his debut in the Mid Seventies, British born Richard Loncraine is one of modern cinema's secret weapons; a director capable of producing masterful films in any genre with a rare mix of style and class.
Loncraine was born in Gloucestershire England just after the war in 1946. After studying to be a sculptor at the Central School of the Arts he became interested in film and attended the Royal College of Art Film School, where he quickly showed himself as a talent to watch.
Loncraine's early career was spent mostly working for the BBC on commercials and television productions. 1974 would prove to be the turning point for the then 29 year old Loncraine when he co-scripted the children's' anthology PROFESSOR POPPER'S PROBLEM and directed the acclaimed short, RADIO WONDERFUL. His work on these and his previous BBC experience led him to his first feature film, 1975's FLAME. Scripted by Andrew Birkin and starring Tom Conti, FLAME was essentially a showcase for the band Slade. FLAME is a film I have long wanted to see as it sounds like a truly fascinating extravaganza, and it has gained a considerable cult following since its release.
FLAME underperformed slightly in 1975 but it received enough attention to garner Loncraine his greatest film, 1977's FULL CIRCLE. Nothing in Loncraine's past would have suggested that he would have been the perfect director for a modern day ghost story, but his direction of FULL CIRCLE is astonishing in its conviction and power. Loncraine seemed to bring out the best in everybody, including lead actress Mia Farrow and composer Colin Towns; both of whom would delivery career best work under Loncraine's direction.
Working closely with cinematographer Peter Hannan and editor Ron Wiseman, Loncraine and company made FULL CIRCLE into an unforgettable experience that would transform Peter Straub's already solid novel into something spectacularly spooky, compelling and resonate.
FULL CIRCLE garnered Loncraine the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival and it should have cemented his reputation as one of the great British directors of the seventies, but distribution problems plagued the film from the get go and it would take nearly five years for the film to be seen outside of British and some European markets.

The delayed release and muted reception of FULL CIRCLE stalled what should have been one of the brightest directorial careers of the late seventies. Loncraine returned to British television for the next several years and finally came back to feature film making with 1982's THE MISSIONARY starring Trevor Howard and Maggie Smith.
Loncraine's real return though was with the fantastic BRIMSTONE AND TREACLE (1982), an intriguing and memorable cult film starring Sting and Denholm Elliot. As in FULL CIRCLE, Loncraine would provide the film with some seriously intelligent direction that made it one of the most memorable British films of the period. Loncraine would go on to win another Grand Prize award, this time at the prestigious Montreal World Film Festival.
Loncraine surprisingly dropped mostly out of the public eye for the rest of the next decade or so, delivering only one feature and some more TV work. He would storm back with vengeance in 1995 with his audacious take on Shakespeare's RICHARD THE THIRD. Loncraine's RICHARD is one of the great personal readings of one of Shakespeare's greatest works, and he would garner several awards for the triumphant work, including the BAFTA and a Silver Berlin Bear.
Loncraine would again return to television after the stunning RICHARD where he would stay until 2004 when he delivered the sweet and surprising WIMBLEDON. This lovely and winning little romantic comedy is one of the more underrated from the decade and features two incredibly charming performances from Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, two of the most talented and charismatic young actors on the planet today. Shot actually on location at Wimbledon, Loncraine delivers a rare romantic comedy that is both intelligent and heartfelt. WIMBLEDON is a real jewel of a film that serves as a great reminder that Richard Loncraine is capable of just about anything he sets his camera on.
Loncraine followed WIMBLEDON with the rather disappointing FIREWALL which failed more due to the miscasting of Harrison Ford rather than his direction, which still maintained a real sense of style and suspense even when the script didn't.
Richard Loncraine in his early sixties no doubt has many more films to give and surprise us with. As a director, he is capable of the creepiest Gothic horror, the heaviest drama, and the most charming comedy imaginable. Loncraine is a really valuable asset to modern film. Here is hoping to many more great works in his future.

A great interview with Loncraine can be found here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/filmnetwork/A24983779

Full Circle: The Introduction


All throughout this week I will be paying tribute to one of my favorite all time films, Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE (1977) aka THE HAUNTING OF JULIA. I first saw this chilling film in my early teens and it haunted my dreams for many years after until I had a chance to revisit it in my mid twenties. The film, starring Mia Farrow at the height of her powers, not only lived up to my memories of it but has seemed to improve with each passing year.
Regular posts will continue here throughout the week but I will be randomly posting a series of articles on FULL CIRCLE along with twelve rare French lobby cards that I just came into possession of. I hope the posts prove to be interesting.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Don't Forget Deliverance on DVD


With all of the excitement surrounding the release of CRUISING on DVD, not to mention DEATH PROOF and ALLIGATOR, it should be pointed out that one of the best films of the seventies emerged in a great special edition package this past week.
John Boorman's DELIVERANCE has been in bad need of a quality DVD release for quite a while now, and the new disc delivers. A sharp transfer is joined by an engrossing four part documentary that focuses on the film, and it features interviews with Boorman and pretty much the whole cast, including Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. Also included is a vintage featurette and a commentary track with Boorman, that I I haven't had the opportunity to listen to yet.
Re-watching DELIVERANCE, I was struck by just how well the film holds up. Boorman's direction is jaw dropping in its attention to detail and the intensity he brings is still close to unmatchable. The whole cast is also at the top of their game here with special mention going to Ned Beatty and Reynolds, who should have been nominated for an Oscar that year.
So pick up DELIVERANCE if you just have the old DVD or have been holding out for the new one. It is available for under fifteen dollars at most outlets and is one of the essential purchases of the year.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

There Will Be Blood Trailer #2 and Teaser Poster


Here is the second, and longest so far, trailer for the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD and its teaser poster. Anderson's newest film will premiere around Christmas and will release wide in the early part of 08.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Cruising


While I can't prove it, I suspect that the very evil spirit Pazuzu, otherwise known as Captain Howdy, from William Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST inhabits many more of William Friedkin's films than one might think. You can feel the Captain in the final shots of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, just after Popeye Doyle has shot an innocent man and he doesn't care. The Captain certainly makes his way into SORCERER, he's what is keeping Roy Scheider's character driving that truck long after any mere human being would have completely collapsed. John Pankow is clearly possessed by him as the credits role on TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. and that's certainly the Captain's glare staring at Linda Fiorentino from Chaz Palminteri in JADE. While he is just a bit player in those film though, Pazuzu is present in nearly every scene of CRUISING, a work which is surely Friedkin's most controversial and dangerous film.
CRUISING started out life as a true crime novel by Gerald Walker. The controversial book was bought up by movie producer and concert promoter Jerry Weintraub in the late seventies and was offered to Friedkin shortly after. Friedkin's career was in trouble by 1979 and he needed a film that could reestablish him as the major American director that he clearly was.
Even though he had just been nominated for another Oscar for AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, Al Pacino's career had also gone slightly off the tracks by 1979. It had been nearly five years since DOG DAY AFTERNOON and the personal BOBBY DEERFIELD had failed to spark any kind of fire with audiences or critics no matter how moving it might have been. CRUISING must have seemed perfect to Pacino as the film he signed on for would be a fairly traditional murder mystery that would bring him back to the New York streets; unbeknown to Pacino though is that nothing involving William Friedkin could have a hope at being traditional.
I first saw CRUISING just after my seventeenth birthday in 1989. Pacino had become my favorite actor a few years before and Friedkin was one of my favorite directors, so CRUISING was a film that I had greatly anticipated seeing. My thoughts in the the past near twenty years haven't changed in regards to the film. CRUISING is still to me one of the most effective and undervalued American films of the past few decades, and no amount of critical or popular derision will change my mind.
I have always thought of CRUISING as THE EXORCIST'S strange and dark little brother. While the often misread EXORCIST does finally remind us that if there is indeed evil in the world then there must also be good, CRUISING has real black and cynical heart that suggests that all men posses evil or at least have the capacity for it. In CRUISING, Captain Howdy doesn't lose.

Many critics have argued that CRUISING fails as a murder mystery, and I would agree with them. This film isn't interested in who the killer is, ultimately it is more about who the killer isn't. As the great Laurent Bouzereau documentary points out, Friedkin cast several people as the killer, including at one point an actor who played one of the film's early victims! Friedkin makes it clear early on that this is a film, like THE EXORCIST, that deals very much with the transference of evil and the loss of one's own identity. If THE EXORCIST was a great spiritual work posing as as a horror film, then CRUISING is very much an existential horror film posing as a murder mystery.
There were several things that struck me watching CRUISING on its newly released DVD a this week. One is just how sad and dislocated nearly everyone looks in the film. All of the characters in it seem to be going through their own very personal crisis...at one point Pacino's character pleads with his girlfriend Karen Allen "Don't let me lose you" but if you listen really close it sounds like he is saying, "Don't ever lose you." The film is filled with odd little moments like that, moments that remind us that sometimes the easiest thing to lose in this life is yourself.
The Karen Allen character is fascinating and she is really splendid in the role. As the only major female character in the film and one of the only positive, Allen is only seen with Pacino in their apartment as a reminder of the life that he is losing that he might not even want. Early in the film Pacino whispers to her, "There's a lot you don't know about me." and that perhaps sums up the film perfectly.
Outside of Karen Allen, the only other real positive force in the film is Ted, Pacino's gay neighbor played wonderfully by Don Scarino. The film's main critics that continually accuse the film of being homophobic seem to always look over this role. Ted is the most human character in the film and the one who is ultimately sacrificed the hardest. His scenes with Pacino are the warmest moments the film has and it gives CRUISING an extra added layer that makes it much more complex than its critics have often given it credit for.

The infamous club scenes in the film are still incredibly evocative. What really struck me was, and the documentary mentions it, is how nonjudgmental the film is in these sequences. I would argue that some of the only real joy and freedom the film exhibits comes through in these scenes. CRUISING doesn't feel like a denouncement of the gay community or this particular subculture, instead it feels like a denouncement towards people who can't accept truths about themselves; which goes very much back to the loss of identity and the susceptibility of evil.
Technically one thing that struck me while watching this film is that it feels more like an Italian film from the period, rather than a Hollywood studio production. A big part of this is the massive amount of post dubbing that the film went through due to all of the noise the protesters were making while they were shooting it. I kept thinking about Fulci's underrated NEW YORK RIPPER from just a few years later as well, and I wondered if Fulci had seen CRUISING and had it mind when he produced that subversive, brilliant and incredibly cynical work.
The cast is extraordinary. Friedkin managed to find some of the most unforgettable faces of the period and everyone from Paul Sorvino (a powerful performance) to Richard Cox and Joe Spinell are incedible to watch in this. One moment with Spinell when he briefly faces off with Pacino in a Central Park tunnel is particularly chill inducing.
As for Pacino, I have always considered CRUISING to be one of his great moments. Gone is the ferocious intensity that had inhabited DOG DAY AFTERNOON and later SCARFACE. His performance here is chillingly cold, subtle and finally very tragic. It is a shame that Pacino's bad experiences shooting the film have caused him to not talk on the film. It is a bold, adventurous performance that contains some of the best moments of his incredibly distinguished film career. The last shot alone belongs in any best of Al Pacino reel imaginable, and it is one of the most complex and stunning closing close ups in film history.
The sound of CRUISING is also particularly great, from Charles L. Campbell's incredibly creepy soundscapes to Jack Nitzsche's experimental and crucial score, CRUISING sounds like no other film I can think of. Also worth noting is the amazing line up of songs Friedkin added from bands like The Germs to Willy Deville's unforgettable IT'S SO EASY. Tarantino is a major fan of CRUISING and his director's cut of DEATH PROOF features this stunning little Deville number.
The film opened up disastrously in the bitterly cold February of 1980. Friedkin had been forced to remove over forty minutes of material and the protests that had been with the film during production bled over into its brief release. While not a total box office bomb, the film received scathing reviews across the board as very few critics bothered looking past its surface. It was pulled shortly after but seemed to almost immediately gain a cult following and the last two decades has seen the tide slowly but surely turning in its favor. The new DVD will probably find a lot more critics, but I suspect it will also strike many people in the way it strikes me...as a great film that has never been given its due.

The DVD itself has already been drawing fire online due to a bluish tint that is most noticeable during the club scenes. Also an odd digital effect has been added to one of the films most memorable moments, the Pacino Amyl Nitrate dance sequence. As far as the look of the film. I don't think comparing the film to the old VHS is fair, I am honestly not sure how this film looked in theaters back in 1980 but to my eyes the new disc looks splendid. Does it look different? Absolutely but how much of that is due to tampering with the original source, I don't know. The new DVD is thing of beauty to my eyes and I wasn't bothered by the tint at all.
I am a bit bothered by the digital effect added to the dance sequence. That definitely has been added and while I can see what Friedkin was aiming for, I don't think it works. The scene was much more effective before and it makes me grateful that I have held on to my old VHS copy.

The film has also been fleshed out a bit with some minor new shots in the clubs but the missing 42 minutes are not here. It is apparently feared that the footage was destroyed by the studio which is truly tragic. The new DVD also still contains the infamous X-Rated subliminal shots Friedkin put in and anyone who chooses to use the slow motion on their remote will be floored that this film carries an R rating.
The disc contains two excellent Bouzereau documentaries that run a total of ironically about 42 minutes. My big apologies to the always reliable Bouzereau for mistakenly crediting the work to Mark Kermode in my last post on CRUISING. Not surprising, but still unfortunate, is the absences of both Pacino and Karen Allen from the new look at the film.
Also contained is a commentary by Friedkin. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet but I suspect it will probably be fascinating as Friedkin is obviously thrilled to be talking about this film again.
I doubt if CRUISING will ever find a huge audience that considers it a classic. It is an astonishingly dark and demanding film that many film fans simply won't want to bother with. I find the film stunning and consider it to be among Friedkin's great works, I am grateful that Warner Brothers has finally released it on DVD. I hope it does well and that Friedkin's equally complex and brilliant SORCERER isn't far away.